UN human rights experts* expressed alarm at the commencement of proceedings today against woman human rights defender
Loujain Al-Hathloul in a Saudi Specialised Criminal Court, and called for her immediate release from jail and for the
“spurious” charges against her to be dropped.
Ms. Al-Hathloul had been instrumental in the movement to allow women to drive, and the push to end male guardianship
laws. She was detained in May 2018 on national security grounds.
“We are extremely alarmed to hear that Ms Al-Hathloul, who has been in detention for more than two years on spurious
charges, is now being tried by a Specialized Terrorism Court for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of
expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Elizabeth Broderick, the Chairperson of the UN Working Group on
Discrimination against Women and Girls.
“We call once again on Saudi Arabia to immediately release Ms. Al-Hathloul, a woman human rights defender who has
greatly contributed to advancing women’s rights in a country where gender discrimination and stereotyping are deeply
entrenched in the fabric of society.”
Ms. Al-Hathloul was accused of breaching article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which punishes the production and
transmission of material deemed to impinge on public order, religious values, public morals and private life. The
authorities justified the charges based on allegations that Ms. Al-Hathloul along with other defenders “communicated
with people and entities hostile to the King”, “cooperated with journalists and media institutions hostile to the King”,
“provided financial support to foreign adversaries” and “recruited persons for information detrimental to the security
of the Kingdom”.
Ms. Al-Hathloul met the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
in February 2018 to share her observations on the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
“The government of Saudi Arabia has a primary responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights
and fundamental freedoms and cannot turn a blind eye to the arbitrary detention and allegation of torture of a woman
whose only reason for imprisonment was to advance women’s rights,” said Broderick.
Ms. Al-Hathloul has not been allowed regular contact with her family during her detention. Her trials have been
frequently cancelled and rescheduled 24 hours before the actual hearings, allowing her little time to prepare her
defence. At the end of October 2020, she started a hunger strike to protest against her conditions of detention. In
mid-November, she interrupted the hunger strike following continued pressure from the authorities, who reportedly kept
waking her every two hours to exhaust her psychologically.
The Working Group said that passing recent amendments to reform discriminatory legislation while violating the rights of
women human rights defenders is shocking and deceptive. “It is not enough to pass laws when fundamental human rights are
regularly breached in practice,” said Broderick of the Working Group.
“We urge the Government to end Ms. Al-Hathloul’s detention, as well as the detention of all the other women human rights
defenders, and to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the allegations of torture while in prison.
Defending human rights can never be considered a threat to national security,” she said.
UN human rights experts have raised their concerns with the Saudi Government over the crackdown on women human rights
defenders on a number of occasions.